Stag & Dagger has been around for almost a full decade, originating in hipster central AKA London’s Shoreditch, which houses many new creatives and upcoming musicians.
The festival had only one year under its fledgling belt before bequeathing Sauchiehall Street as its sister location in early 2009.
Since then the mini-festival has grown in size and scale encapsulating every music venue of note on the street and bringing in a smorgasbord of acts from home (all over the UK) and afar (America & Japan).
Not only does it allow the skint Art School cohort to fill their boots with as many live bands as they can handle, for a mere £25, it’s also offers a good opportunity to venue hop whilst enjoying some promotional beverage prices – all under the guise of supporting live music.
With so many great acts playing and across so many venues it is always inevitable that you won’t get to see everyone on your ‘to do’ list, but that only serves as testament to the quality of the line-up.
After some disruptions to the train service the first act we catch of the day is down in the Broadcast basement, and as has become the norm in these Glasgow city festivals the bands get to enjoy playing to packed out venues as the festivals early comers take in the only music on offer before the bigger spaces open their doors.
This time it’s the turn of Guildford indie punks BlackWaters and as I watch from just in front of the stairwell behind a sea of heads the four-piece deliver a set peppered with hooky pop sensibilities and punk rock intensity that stirs up a frenzy in the sweaty space, with some down the front belting back the words.
The band has a string of singles in their name now, each combining the hectic yet accessible powerpop come punk of the late 70s mixed with coy snarl and indie swagger of early Arctic Monkeys or Blur at their most punk, it seems like recipe for success and they’re hitting the right projectory to ride it.
Next door in Sleazy’s Aussie four-piece Vacations deliver a much more dreamy affair, as the crowd get met with the dilemma of choice for the first time of the day as the other venues start opening their doors, however they manage to hold a substantial crowd as their soaring guitars whip you with a cool breeze on one of the warmest days we’ve had so far this year.
This is the last date on a full European tour and despite their understated demeanour the band seem thrilled to end things to this size of crowd in Glasgow, lulling you with their beautifully shimmering indie rock chops you can’t help be washed away by their optimistic slacker pop.
Back in Broadcast and London/Brighton dream popsters Underwater Boys are demonstrating their undoubted potential with a set of synth washed pop.
Lead vocalist Tom Klar is the focal point as his strained high yet clean vocals cut above the band’s breezy hooks that are only topped in hypnotics by his ever rhythmic bounce, as if he’s channelling his inner Bez, thankfully only in dance moves.
There’s points where the band hit more psychedelic notes and when the three vocals overlap there’s hints of a real glam energy, but it all comes with an overriding Britpop sheen that’s complimented by the fuzzy joys of contemporaries likes of Ariel Pink and Beach House.
With the sun beating down this Bank Holiday and Glasgow not being known for such weather and Glaswegians known for enjoying their time in the sun, I can honestly say I was surprised when I turned up to see Declan Welsh & the Decadent West at G2, only to be greeted at the entrance by a long snaking queue to get in.
Declan Welsh a young stalwart hailing from East Kilbride has a fire in his belly and he want you know all about.
Playing with his band The Decadent West, two of whom are sporting fantastic silk shirts play impassioned post punk, with leanings towards Nirvana and The Clash.
The lyrics are witty and unflinchingly stark that touch upon a range of topics from the Palestinian Occupation to everyday mundanity.
‘No Pasaran’, doffs its cap to the Spanish Civil War of 1930, translating literally as ‘they shall not pass’ and is delivered more as a battle cry tonight, imbuing the set with a political flair.
A song that identifies very similar to early Arctic Monkeys records, ‘Do What You Want’ takes on a much sultrier tone that sees Welsh exhibiting some fine, snake hips dance moves and wouldn’t be out of place in the background of a strip joint in The Sopranos.
Ending the set with‘Nazi Boys’, which is a fiery frenetic beast, with angry guitars and the jarring drawl of “nazi boys of the alt right on reddit in the dead of night/trolling girls and swapping memes, a master race of spotty teens”.
Serves as a song you can dance proudly to, whilst also stomping your disapproval of fascist regimes.
Over at the CCA we pop in to catch up on the joy that is an Edwin Organ set, and today just playing as a duo they seem a bit less fleshed out than previous outings, yet they still manage to capture than same sultry yet wonky vibe with impressive flair.
Edwin Organ seems to have grown in confidence over the last few years and he cuts a much more comfortable figure cracking jokes with the crowd, before delving into another maximal sample or serenading us with that gorgeous soulful, smooth deep vocal that melts you into his set.
Organ has been on the horizon for a fair while now but it now seems to be hitting a point where his unquestionable talents need the chance to mesmerise a mass audience.
On the main stage at The Art School Warm Digits open things up and the Newcastle duo immediately up the octane with a haunting drums, guitar and laptop master class in driven kraut-tinged post rock.
In a live setting they leave no room for breathe as they grasp you and wring your neck with sheer adrenaline, as a selection of vocal sample including Devon Sproule’s contribution on the disco fun of ‘The Rumble and the Tremor’ from last year’s Wireless World are allowed to shine alongside a powerhouse of musicianship.
It’s an engulfing experience that’s made even more impressive that it’s just the two of them, as Technicolor visuals add to the trance-like state that their music leaves you in.
Next we hot tail it over to Sleazy’s to catch Glasgow’s very own Medicine Men who have been gracing Glasgow’s live music scene for a number of years.
Their sound is particularly hard to pin down and seems to morph from one song to the next; yes, they have psychedelic leanings, but there is so much more going on.
Songs like ‘Bruised Peach’ are a glittering disco triumph, with vocals sounding more distorted and akin to Kasabian’s Tom Meighan.
Whilst, ‘Ceiling to the Floor’ is a beautiful love ballad that has Leftfield and Morcheeba nuances over a beautiful synth loop.
Frontman Ian Mackinnon has plenty of friendly between song banter with the crowd where he warns “don’t do what I usually do, try to take it easy, and not get too wrecked and see some bands”.
Final track ‘Out of the Light’, is a sentimental pop tune that sounds like a intriguing mash up between The Polyphonic Spree and LCD Soundsystem and provides plenty momentum to close the set.
At the sticky mess of a venue that is the G2 Edinburgh sweethearts Dama Scout play to a fairly sparse crowd, but quickly expel any indie pop clichés by delivering a set that’s as harrowing as it is sweet, yes there are moments when it’s pure whimsical C86 pop as an enchanted nod washes through the audience, but this trio have much more to them than that.
It’s the way the band constantly keep you on your toes, while still maintaining a quality sound that goes from unnerving three way vocals as a constant vibration rings through the venue to the throbbing post punk of new single ‘Milky Milk’ before hitting us with some angular guitar pop.
It’s hard to pin down what Dama Scout quite do best, but with just an EP and a handful of singles to their name, all of high quality, what direction they go in next will be well worth following them in.
America’s Protomartyr, hailing from Detroit is quite the spectacle to behold; as the crowd pour in to The Art School, it’s very clear that they are one of the most anticipated bands on the line up, with the venue filling up in a matter of minutes.
Ambling on stage, somewhat nonplussed vocalist Joe Casey, quickly instructs the sound desk for “more red and blue lights” once swathed in his chosen colours, he takes a few more sips from his paper coffee cup before breaking in to ‘My Children’, a fascinating pastiche on fading childhood innocence and growing up; it’s a good opener that allows the band to showcase a softer hue whilst building momentum.
Protomartyr are mesmerising to watch, Casey’s presence is extremely laid back, almost detached but the lyrics are delivered in an impressive baritone, almost verging on spoken word, which only seems to lend itself to the band’s, moody, atmospheric post punk vibe, drawing in even the most reluctant of audience.
‘Corpses in Regalia’ from the band’s fourth studio album Relatives in Descent, sounds like Nick Cave riding in the back of an ornate hearse on his way to one of the most opulent disco party hosted by the Nephilim; it’s gothic and it’s great.
‘Here is the Thing’ is a buzzing rush of guitars angry and defiant, with leanings towards The Fall and Casey sounding more akin to Mark E Smith; it’s an impressive symposium of layered guitars and petulant drums.
Not wanting to break character, the band finish the set on ‘Scum Rise!’, a blood curdling ode, full of spite, revenge and darkness.
It’s bleak, menacing and foreboding, which lends to its exuberance, leaving the room in no doubt of the bands impressive instrumental capabilities; easily one of the best performances of the evening.
A quick trot down the hill (somewhat to my reluctance as I was loath to miss Wire) and into the ABC2 I managed to catch a few songs by Shambolics, a four piece that hail from Fife, who had impressively managed to fill the room, even although Glasvegas where playing in the same venue right at that moment, upstairs.
“Thanks for coming Glasgow, I thought you would definitely patch us,” muses front man Lewis McDonald, sounding slightly surprised himself.
The band have been cutting their dreamy, whimsical, sweetheart indie-pop teeth supporting bands such as Cast and songs like ‘Love Collides’ are infused with a sense of seaside romance that’s at once upbeat and infectious.
With obvious leanings towards The La’s, the young band are both part Merseybeat and 90’s twee indie pop, which seems to have gathered them a committed following.
Coming out of the dark behemoth that is Protomartyr you need an escape, to follow that with the full 75-minutes of Wire seems a little excessive and unfair to some of the other acts on the bill.
The escape comes just half way down the hill as the ever animated Stanley Odd frontman Solareye delivers his lauded brand of politically savvy Scottish hip hop to a CCA crowd that lap it up.
Solareye, aka Dave Hook, is one of those frontmen that performs live with an apparent giddy glee that just infectious and his off the cuff observations demonstrate just why he’s one of the best in the game on these shores.
Hook’s solo material is in more glitchy and less rock territory than that of his band, but it’s politically astute as ever and as he bounces around with a beamer on his face you can’t help but be enchanted, he even gives us a spot of beat boxing while a technical fault gets remedied, it seems there’s no end to this guys talents and he’s loving putting it out there.
Following that I arrive at the festival’s smallest venue, and sadly The Priory seems like the forgotten venue as I arrive just before HOME$LICE take the stage on a set time shared with other local favourites West Princes along with the festival’s big hitters.
Still, the band don’t let that phase them and before long there’s a healthy enough crowd to make the tiny basement appear busy as the band sprinkle us with the sunshine that’s almost forgotten at 10pm and deliver irresistible guitar pop glory that has made them one of our favourite acts to come out of Glasgow recently.
They pour out a set built from their latest release Howdy and last year’s impressive Young Creatives; hooky guitar based glory and attitude drenched vocals that get the basement bouncing along nicely.
All that and we’re still left with enough time to see a good portion of Wire, as the legendary band close up The Art School with a behemoth of a set that shows that the post punk pioneers have what it takes more that 40-years past their original formation.
After a quick pit stop in the Saramago bar, we manage to catch the infectious, feel good disco party that is The Vegan Leather; hailing from Paisley this exotic looking, motely crew of students sound and look beautiful.
Walking into the room we are instantly met with a hot blast of damp air, which is coming from the seething mesh of bodies that are enthralled in a disco mosh pit of sorts; The Vegan Leather is a band who want your attention and they intend to get it from the onset.
The art pop quartet emit optimism and fun by the bucket load and it’s easy to see why they have been making waves on the Glasgow music scene over the past year.
Big hair and big noise, the band showcase upbeat indie- electro synths and pounding drums on ‘Shake It’, where ‘Man Dies’ is more of a whimsical sonnet, that’s still angular and edgy.
The set has moments of Metronomy, Art Brut and even Soulwax laced through it and the audience doesn’t stop dancing even for a moment.
“On this next song Marie is about to school you”, forewarns Gianluca Bernacchi and the crowd, not slow on the uptake begin to chant the usual mantra of “here we, here we…” yes you know the one, no further explanation needed I’m sure… Only to replace it with “Marie, Marie, Marie Fu**in, Collins” beaming through a flash of pink hair the guitarist quickly lunches in to singing ‘Eyes’, which she does from somewhere in the heart of the crowd.
‘I Take American’ is a fun stomp through the playground by a shiny plastic dinosaur that’s let’s face – probably pink and covered in glitter; it’s great fun and the crowd sing along in chorus.
Ones to keep a look out for in the near future and if you see them playing in town, please take the time out to catch their next show.
Broadcast was our final destination of the evening having one of the last billed guests on the latest time slot 12:30am.
Former Amazing Snakeheads frontman Dale Barclay tops the bill alongside his wife and fellow member of And Yet It Moves, Laura St. Jude.
The duo have been performing together after what Barclay would call his ‘Gift from the Reaper’, having recently been diagnosed with an invasive brain tumour, the pair have been inseparable and Barclay more focused now on artistic pursuits and creative outlets than ever before (see previous Rave Child interview) with more clarity and vision and poise.
Since returning to his hometown of Glasgow (from Berlin where And Yet it Moves were based) Barclay has wasted zero time on inaction.
He has been playing several gigs, and has even put together the Cain’s Collective comprising of; Laura St. Jude, Dale Barclay, Steven Thomas (poet) and Kelsey Black (painter) and Paul Barclay (Photographer); together the group have been putting on events and generating a creative output cohesively.
The set tonight is a stiff middle finger in the face of fear, a belly full of bile, truculent and seething with a hunger for the here and now.
Opener, ‘No Way back to Lunch’ sees Steven Thomas join the group, as he howls at the moon, a good opener to show the crowd the visceral, raw mechanics are very much part of a functioning, well-oiled machine.
Memories with the burdened howl of “take it by both hands and shake it if you need it” is a startling reminder to make the most of what you have and is at once invasive and rousing.
Closing the festival on ‘Mark Swan’, a track by And Yet It Moves, again seeing friends, companions and contemporaries grace the stage with Barclay really giving the show a sense of what is happening is very much a family affair, open to those who want to make the most of what you have and find beauty in the raw and primal of everyday life.
A gift from the Reaper indeed, at the end of a beautiful night.
Words: Ang Canavan/Iain Dawson
Photos: Stewart Fullerton